From pushing pedals to pushing daisies

The other day the Games claimed their first victim: an official Olympic bus ferrying journalists hit and killed the 28-year-old cyclist Dan Harris.

Mr Harris chose that mode of transportation to avoid the traffic around the Olympic village close to which he lived. In fact his house in Hackney is near the Olympic velodrome, and if that’s not a gruesome coincidence, I don’t know what is.

The first reaction is to lament the young man’s death and to pray for his soul. The second one is to ponder the whole cycling fad, its death toll and how easy it is to prevent. So far this year, 60 cyclists have been killed in Britain, most of them in big cities, particularly in London. In fact, the staff at St Thomas’s hospital refer to cyclists as ‘organ donors’. It’s easy to see why.

If you’re a driver, recall all the times you’ve been tapped, touched or bumped by other cars. You’ve had a couple of such scrapes, haven’t you? A little scratch here, a tiny dent there, nothing worth bothering the insurance company about, and you do have your no-claims bonus to consider. Well, had you been riding a bike in London, every one of those little pats could have been fatal.

By contrast, only about six Amsterdam cyclists are killed in a year, on average. Of course, Amsterdam is a much smaller place than London, but then 35 percent of all journeys there are taken by bike, compared to only two percent in London.

Two conclusions immediately suggest themselves: first, London isn’t as suited to cycling as Amsterdam is; second, anyone who cycles through London must have his head examined – this regardless of how good a cyclist he is.

Bradley Wiggins isn’t much of a royalist, but he’s a fairly useful biker, as I think you’ll agree. His comments on the fatal accident started with the irrefutable observation that ‘London is a busy city and there’s a lot of traffic…’ And then came a startling admission: ‘I got knocked off several times.’ Being knocked off a bicycle in London constitutes a near-fatal accident, and it’s the world’s best road cyclist we’re talking about. Has Stirling Moss had many such accidents in London, in the centre of which he lives? Has Lewis Hamilton?

So why would reasonably intelligent and responsible people endanger their lives by riding their bikes in a city manifestly not designed for this mode of locomotion? Some do so because they can’t afford to travel in any other way, though one suspects that, for all of Dave’s and George’s efforts, such paupers are few. Some may feel they need the exercise for their health, so if a chap ends up on a morgue slab, at least his corpse will be in prime shape.

But most do so out of sanctimonious self-righteousness, as if pressing their holier-than-thou environmental credentials. Politicians, such as Dave and our jolly-hockey-sticks mayor, have the extra motivation of appearing cool and populist, thereby hoping to counteract their vote-losing Bullingdon past, but this is a separate subject.

As one moves through London by sensible transportation, especially motorcar, one detects the smug look on the face of every cyclist one overtakes. You may be travelling in safety and comfort, he seems to be saying, but I’m striking a blow for the cause dear to every progressive heart.

As with most champions of progressive causes, smugness seamlessly gives way to self-centred rudeness. Cyclists routinely ignore pedestrian crossings, traffic lights, stop signs, lane discipline – and they do so with impunity. After all, they won’t get points off their licence for they haven’t got one. Nor will their insurance premiums go up if they cause an accident – they don’t pay any in the first place.

Neither do they pay any road tax or congestion charges, and yet politicians bend over backwards to accommodate these freeloaders at the expense of drivers, who pay hundreds of pounds for the privilege of being patronised by bikers. For example, the Embankment, which used to be the quickest way of travelling from Chelsea to Westminster, has been reduced to one lane each way to make room for the new bicycle lane, wide enough for three bikers to hold hands as they ride.

Wiggins’s solution to the problem? Same as Dave’s: ‘Make helmets compulsory.’ I’m amazed neither intellectual giant has suggested that cyclists carry a government health warning. Neither of them seems to realise that laws should be instituted to protect people against others, not against their own irresponsibility. A cyclist not wearing a helmet (and most do) endangers no one other than himself, so it’s really none of the state’s business.

However, this doesn’t mean there’s nothing the state can do. Cyclists must be made to take a test, both written and on the road. They must have a licence that can be withdrawn after a specified number of  transgressions. They must carry third-party insurance. And they must pay for the privilege of using the roads. I suspect that under such conditions the number of cyclists in London will go down drastically. As will the number of lives taken so needlessly and for such spurious reasons.

Oh well, back to the real world now, one governed by political correctness and self-serving politicians. Dan Harris, RIP.











The slaughter of Christians, all perfectly democratic

The other day I received a circular from a British organisation called Christian Voice. It was a true cri de coeur, loud enough to draw attention to another massacre in the making.

“If Mr Hague has his way and Assad falls, the Christians in Syria (10% of its population) will face a bloodbath. The signs are there right now, and only Russian and Chinese resistance to ‘the West’ is keeping the Syrian church from complete extermination,” says the circular, adding, “Thank God for the Russians.”

Right analysis, wrong conclusion. The Russians and the Chinese aren’t out to save Middle Eastern Christians – they’re pursuing their own interests, and these are in the long run even deadlier to Christendom, what’s left of it.

But one can understand those who are desperate to avert a catastrophe. Betrayed by their own government, not knowing where to turn, they’d form a pact with the devil, not just the Russians, if this could save the lives of Christians and Jews.

As ever, the root of the problem is close to home. The asinine policy inspired by American neocons and avidly pursued by the US government, with Britain in the role of the proverbial poodle, is encouraging the radicalisation of Islam, a religion that doesn’t really need such prodding.

A creed founded not by a crucified martyr but by a warrior, Islamic civilisation is by its very nature radical and aggressive. It has to be those things for it’s doctrinally committed to proselytising, and history has taught Muslims that the only way they can spread their faith is by violence. Like all other civilisations, Islam has its peaks and troughs: at some times it’s more impassioned, and therefore radical, than at others. This is all basic.

What’s less so is the West’s response at this time, when the amplitude of Islamic passion is clearly at its peak. As a direct manifestation of this, Christians are being persecuted all over the Muslim world.

Sri Lanka is about to make Christian conversion a criminal offence. Christianity is illegal in Saudi Arabia, and anyone caught with a Bible, or with the Cross around his neck will be thrown into prison.

In Pakistan, churches are burned down every week. Recently, a thirteen year old girl was taunted for being a Christian by five Muslim youths who then raped her. The rapists were not charged.

A man is currently on trial for his life in Egypt for converting to Christianity. In Sudan, Somalia, Mali, Nigeria – all over Africa – Christians are being dispossessed and slaughtered. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt aims to wipe out all the Coptic Christians who have been there since the second century.

And the Western – or, to give credit where it’s due, American – response? To mastermind and engineer the fall of those Middle Eastern regimes that are all of them unsavoury but none of them Islamic radical. The Americans, with us in tow, commit this criminal outrage in the name of democracy – even though in this context ‘democracy’ is wholly synonymous with ‘Islamic radicalism’ and all it entails.

Fundamental to our response to this is the understanding that, when conducting their policy of democracy über alles, the Americans don’t really mean it. ‘Democracy’ for them is a desemanticised equivalent of our own erstwhile ‘white man’s burden’, something to inscribe on the banners of a budding global empire. Americans too are proselytisers, and, when Coke and McDonald’s don’t quite do the job, their ‘democracy’ acquires a laser-guided aspect. In short, ‘democracy’ has become nothing but a neocon trick.

As I write this, ‘Arab Spring’ is in real danger of turning into nuclear winter. Radical Islamic regimes of wild-eyed fanatics committed to the destruction of Israel and the massacre of Christians and Jews, have taken over in North Africa and Iraq, and are about to do so in Afghanistan. Assad is tottering, and Messrs Obama and Cameron are only too happy to provide the final push. Once they’re victorious, the so-called ‘rebels’ will unleash a tribal and religious civil war and, should chemical weapons fall in their hands, will be perfectly willing to use them.

Middle Eastern Christians and Israel, the only recognisably civilised and genuinely pro-Western country in the region, are in grave danger of a holocaust. Israel, the only country in the world denied by the progressivist consensus the right to defend itself, will respond to such a menace with every means at its disposal, nuclear weapons if need be. Is this what the State Department and the Foreign Office want? Possibly; I woudn’t put anything past them.

If the Middle Eastern Christians and Jews are indeed massacred, their blood won’t just be on the hands of Muslim fanatics. Our own governments won’t come out unsullied either. They are selling the Judaeo-Christian soul for a mess of pottage, or, to be more up-to-date about it, a barrel of oil. And all we can do is scream off the rooftops, hoping our voice will be heard. 




Pussy Riot against the Russian church and state

You must feel proud that the Russian punk-rock group, now on trial in Moscow, has chosen such an elegant English name for itself. This shows how generously the Anglophone world shares its cultural achievements with all nations.

In February this year, as if to prove that they had absorbed the spirit of our pop culture, not just its form, three Pussy Rioters delivered a disgustingly blasphemous performance at the altar of Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.

Penetrating the area reserved in the Orthodox church for the clergy only, the three girls performed a mockery of the hymn Sanctus, begging the Virgin to ‘kick Putin out’. They also referred to the Patriarch as ‘a bitch’ (the Russian word suka can be profitably used to describe a member of either sex) and, instead of ‘holy, holy, holy, Lord God’, sang what Wikipedia wrongly translates as ‘shit, shit, shit of Lord God’. In fact, the Russian word sram only means ‘shame’, with no faecal implications whatsoever. Still, the act was indisputably blasphemous both to the church and to the national leader it venerates. The three women are now on trial, facing a maximum sentence of seven years in a concentration camp.

On general principle, I’m in favour of locking up all pop ‘musicians’ and, if they have committed blasphemy, throwing away the key. But such principles don’t apply in this instance, for the trial raises graver issues.

The prosecution has declared that the Pussy Rioters ‘undermine the state’s spiritual foundations’, presumably meaning Christianity. Here I have to disagree. Putin’s KGB state is founded, spiritually, not on religion but on thievery and money laundering. In a show of hypocrisy infinitely more offensive than anything perpetrated by the Pussies, Putin and his gang these days attend church services with the same pious expressions they sported at party rallies not so long ago. But their Father isn’t in heaven: he’s at KGB headquarters and in offshore banks, where the gang keeps its ill-gotten laundry.

The church hierarchy, ably led by Patriarch Kiril, KGB codename ‘Mikhailov’, belongs to the same gang. His Holiness, a lifelong KGB agent, recently won a court case against his neighbour whose refurbishment work had allegedly caused $1.7 million worth of dust damage to the Patriarch’s flat. As a monk, ‘Mikhailov’ took a vow of chastity and poverty, which doesn’t prevent him from sharing his palatial quarters with a woman who was at first described as his ‘sister’, then became his ‘cousin’, then his ‘distant relation’. He gets away with such ill-concealed cynicism because the upper echelons of the church are his moral twins. For instance, both priests who contested the patriarchal elections against Kiril were KGB agents too.

While the KGB represents a modern phenomenon, the Russian church has been an extension of the state since at least the reign of Peter I (1682-1725). Moreover, it has always enjoyed a cosy relationship with the secret police. A law Peter’s Synod passed in 1722 obligated all priests, on pain of death, to report to the authorities any suspicious statement vouchsafed at confession. The penny dropped, and priests (with many exceptions, to be sure) continued to inform on their parishioners for the next two and a half centuries.

In fact, looking at Russian history, it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that the church has always been probably the most reactionary, and certainly the most anti-Western, estate. It has always toed the line drawn by the government, but it has done so with particular fervour whenever the state pursued rabid anti-Western policies.

Thus the church was more than ready to seek the protection of heathen Mongol invaders against the Western Christian orders. Its relationship with the doctrinally godless but refreshingly anti-Western Bolshevik regime was also ambivalent to say the least. Thus its adoration of the increasingly anti-Western Putin government follows a time-honoured trend.

Putin loathes the West not just viscerally, but also pragmatically. Having established his kleptocratic regime by larcenous means, he knows that any serious liberal opposition invoking legality can unseat him. That’s why Putin has to appeal to the reactionary masses spearheaded by the church. And reconfirming his anti-Western credentials is an essential part of that appeal.

It’s mostly for this reason that the kleptocracy consistently champions any regime in conflict with the West, including the most hideous ones. Putin knows, for example, that Assad is a lost cause, but he’ll continue to support him until the final fall of the axe. The kleptocrats sense their spiritual kinship with Assad, and fear that his demise could lead to their own, one domino knocking the others down.

Such fears too have historical roots, best exemplified by Peter’s father, Tsar Alexei, responding to the execution of Charles I in England. When the English Muscovy Company, which had enjoyed a near monopoly on Russian trade since Elizabethan times, applied for an extension of its licence, it was floored by the short uppercut of the tsar’s ukase: ‘Inasmuch as the said Anglic Germans have slaughtered their own King Carolus to death, we hereby decree that none of the said Anglic Germans shall henceforth be admitted to Russia’s land.’

It’s not just the ‘Anglic Germans’, but the West in general that Russian rulers variably, and the Russian church invariably, have always wished to keep out. This includes the West at its best and also at its worst, the end so pathetically represented by Pussy Riot.

Much as I find the ladies highly objectionable, I think we should all campaign for their release – the months they’ve already spent, and will spend, in custody until the end of the trial is punishment enough. A state truly committed to the protection of Christianity would have the moral right to impose a harsher sentence. But Putin’s murderous thugs have no such right – any verdict they pass is unjust because they’re the ones who pass it.